I’ve already had the great opportunity to speak with many women about their recovery from eating disorders and emotional eating (you can find the interviews here). I hope to regularly feature Q&As with individuals who’ve recovered from eating disorders, binge eating, negative body image or any kind of disordered eating. If you’d like to share your story of recovery, I’d love to hear from you! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In part two of my interview with eating disorder survivor and advocate Kendra Sebelius (see her fantastic Facebook page and Twitter account here), she talks about media misconceptions, why she became an advocate and specific ways families can help. You’ll also find a long list of recommended resources – and much more.
If you haven’t read part one of Kendra’s interview, please check it out here.
8. What are some misconceptions about eating disorders, particularly how they’re portrayed in the media?
There is often a lot of media about anorexia and bulimia, but the majority of people who struggle with eating disorders do not fit nicely into these DSM boxes. A majority of people fit in the EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) and BED (binge eating disorder) descriptions. Since I am an advocate I read a lot of articles, and search daily for ones to post on my Voice in Recovery Facebook page.
I think eating disorders do get a lot of great press. I do worry more about trash media articles, because often the articles sound cliché, and make it sound like eating disorders are a willpower issue and not a complicated biological, chemical, cultural, environmental disorder. Some articles make it sound like people choose to have an eating disorder. I know a lot of the pro-ana websites say it is a lifestyle – which is absolutely untrue and dangerous.
I think there’s also a lot of media attention on those who struggle with eating disorders, and a lot of people sharing their story of their struggle, but often I wish there would be more news on recovery. I personally felt lost in recovery because I had no idea what recovery meant, what it looked like, what the experience was like, what the struggles were, etc.
This is the reason I started being an advocate – to learn and share what recovery looks like. I wish there were more books focusing on recovery, and how to handle struggles in recovery. I think if I had found a community online focused on recovery, it would have helped me immensely. This is why I love doing my Voice in Recovery advocacy, and being part of the MentorConnect program. I think AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) is great because you have a sponsor, and I love how MentorConnect has this ability for those who struggle, to be able to have a mentor to share the struggles with.
I do worry about the media’s representation of eating disorders. I have seen TV shows that show ED behaviors and then never address them as serious issues. I worry that because dieting is running rampant in this country by a multi-billion dollar industry, that parents will see dieting as a girl’s “right of passage.” I worry people will start dieting and end up with eating disorders. I believe the diet industry is a very damaging, powerful industry.
I watch the media, and the news, and am grateful there is so much eating disorder awareness. I think it is a daily worry though, that clichés, and misconceptions are thrown into media articles. This can make it harder for those who really struggle, and the loved ones trying to help.
9. Many people don’t realize the physical consequences of eating disorders, including electrolyte imbalances, irregular heartbeat, osteoporosis, severe tooth decay and digestive problems. Did you experience any health problems as a result of your eating disorder?
I think I was relatively lucky to not suffer too much physical long-term damage. With all the weight fluctuations over the last ten years, I am often surprised at how fortunate and lucky I am.
I do have a LOT of dental issues. I was a kid who never had cavities, always had white teeth, and I now struggle with cavities, gum damage, etc. I also have a lot of digestive problems. Since I abused laxatives, I have a hard time processing foods. I also restricted and threw up so much food that I have acid reflux, and issues with eating certain types of foods.
10. Individuals with eating disorders are reluctant to seek out treatment. What can family members do to help a loved one start treatment and how can they help during treatment?
This is a very hard part of this disorder and addictions as well. It really depends on the person and the family relationships. I did some really awful things to my parents but they always stood by me. They knew it was the disorder and drinking, and not me who was “bad.” They could see them as separate, and that helped.
I do believe my parents could have used more information on eating disorders. I think any parent who suspects a loved one has an eating disorder should do their research and find support for themselves. Recovery is not only for the person who has the ED, the loved ones are going through their own journey, and I would recommend they seek therapy, read books and join support groups if there are any in their area.
I also recommend loved ones listen to the person struggling with the ED, and be open about how they may not understand the disorder, that they support those who struggle. I really needed to feel “heard.” I also think, in my particular situation, I needed someone to call me out and draw the line. I needed to be sent away. I am a very strong-willed person, and needed someone else to help. I knew I was not able to seek out the help I needed.
I also recommend family members try to have an open dialogue. If they can’t do this, maybe family therapy could help.
Most of all, family members need to be patient. Recovery is not an easy, quick process, and often parents feel guilty, and want to “fix” it but cannot. It’s a powerless position, and very difficult, which is why they need their own support during this time.
Also – this disorder lies: Often while you think a loved one may need help, the person struggling will not and sometimes cannot see this. Try not to lash out with frustration, and understand that it is a very complicated disorder, and it is normal for the person struggling to not want help, be unwilling to stop behaviors and may get very angry at any suggestion of help.
In my case, being forceful helped. I needed someone else to make the decision where I could not. But every person is different – and often seeing a therapist or psychiatrist that specializes in ED could help loved ones know how to initially pursue treatment for those struggling.
In the end, loved ones need to be mindful of their words, their actions, and their own eating behaviors, because they influence those around them, and can often add to the struggle of the person with an eating disorder.
11. Any resources (books, websites) you recommend for individuals struggling with eating disorders?
Books: There are SOOO many wonderful books and the below list includes only some of the ones I recommend:
Websites: This also is a sample of the websites I look to for information:
12. For women who struggle with disordered eating or negative body image (which is probably most, unfortunately), what would you like them to know?
Body image is such a hard topic. I think it’s important to know that what we see in the mirror is often a distorted perception of self. I think a lot of people struggle with idealized sizes determined in our culture. It is hard, but I think health needs to be the focus.
We are going to fluctuate in weight, and in perception of self. This is normal. I support women of all sizes, and lately in the media, there have been some great baby steps in the magazines especially. I hope women can see that all colors, sizes, shapes and abilities are beautiful. That being authentic to who you are is beautiful.
I think Health at Every Size is a great movement and has a great website. Size acceptance needs to begin within ourselves. Be patient with who we are, that our weight does not determine our worth. I think writing a “Dear Body” letter is so powerful for those who have struggles with disordered eating or an eating disorder.
To understand our body, to respect its purpose, and to take care of it for its function, and often apologize for how mean we were to it can be powerful. In treatment I was forced to look in the mirror naked – which at the time was terrifying. But the more I did it, the more I saw myself as a whole person.
I focus on seeing my body as a whole unit, versus chopping up who I am based on arms, thighs, neck, stomach, face, etc. I also think not having a TV has helped me immensely. I no longer see commercials telling us what we need, based on ridiculous faults the advertiser is focusing on. Being able to deconstruct our media’s messages, including commercials, is empowering.
It is why I do like Dove workshops, which show young girls how images, and messages are false and not real. I think teaching young girls and boys to deconstruct the media’s messages is more powerful than any banning or restriction. It gives people tools to use in life. This website also has some ideas on how to help with body image.
13. Anything else you’d like readers to know about eating disorders?
I absolutely believe recovery is possible. Recovery takes a lot of soul searching, and what helps one person may not help the next. For me, recovery has given me more than my life back. It has made me a better person. I am able to better empathize and care for people, and it has also given me the ability to care for myself and no longer see that as being selfish. I hope to give people hope that recovery, while it is a hard path, and not linear, can open a new world of possibilities in life.
I want people to know they are not alone, that there is support in the pro-recovery world. Reaching out and asking for help in recovery is a great strength. I hope by sharing my story, people see that even though I may struggle, I am still in recovery; being authentic, honest and accountable to my words and actions are my tools to keep me healthy in life and in recovery. I want people to know I struggle, and that struggles do not equal failure.
I think many people question what recovery is, what it looks like, and often wonder what “stage” in recovery they are at. I try to tell people to live in the now, be honest, process and allow yourself to feel. Feelings, while sometimes overwhelming, do not determine or control my behaviors. I am able to feel, and cry or laugh, and in the end make a healthy decision about what action I want to take in life.
In the end I want people to know that they are not alone, and do not have to go through recovery on their own. I personally hid enough within my disorder and substance abuse and decided in recovery to never hide again. I hope through my words, actions and support that I give in the social media community, I can inspire others to come out of the dark and use their voices as well.
Again, thanks so much, Kendra! You and all the women who’ve contributed their stories teach us that you can find the proper help and get better. So many people struggle with these issues; remember, you’re not alone and you don’t have to feel ashamed. Like Kendra said, recovery is possible, and we hope you always use your voice!
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Last reviewed: 27 Jan 2010